As a young adult, I encountered the accusation that Judaism is sexist. There were women I knew who thought that Judaism and Jewish law are biased against women. My intuition told me that it’s incorrect and that it’s a bill of goods, but their arguments made sense and I didn’t know how to answer. Then I read The Committed Marriage by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis zt”l and I understood why my intuition was correct. Judaism acknowledges that men and women are different and gives them each different responsibilities, but one is not inferior to the other.
Unfortunately, the recent phenomenon of erasing women from view in frum publications is just the kind of thing that gives fuel to the fire of that accusation of sexism. And now we have the additional phenomenon of silencing women. There were authorities who insisted on cancelling an event in which women would be speaking and sharing. And there was the wedding in Bnei Brak in which the kallah played drums and impressed the guests and musicians, but the authorities there got angry at the hall for allowing it and the hall caved.
We’ve seen a lot of articles, both in print and online, giving reasons as to why erasing or silencing women is wrong. And of course, I agree with every last one of them. But one reason that has not been mentioned is that of Chillul Hashem. When we present Torah Judaism in ways that make it look bad, it discourages non-observant and unaffiliated Jews from learning more and that’s a Chillul Hashem. The above accusation of Judaism being sexist/biased against women is a myth, but when frum publications erase women from view, or when authority figures insist that women should not speak or be heard in public, they are only perpetuating that myth and thus they’re being Mechallel Hashem.
Someone once said that we Jews do not have a responsibility to please the non-Jews and non-observant Jews. When it comes to Halacha/Jewish law, that’s 100% correct. We must never water down Torah and Mitzvot just to make them more appealing to non-observant Jews or to make us appear nicer to non-Jews. But erasing or silencing women has no real halachic basis to it. Most rabbis agree that there is no requirement to do either one. In fact, several rabbis have made statements against these things. I might add that the issue of the kallah in Bnei Brak was widely reported and the kallah may have been embarrassed. THAT is a violation of halacha. And for what?
There are those who say that it’s part of our Mesorah, referring to a longtime tradition. But considering that erasing women from frum publications only started in the 1990s, that’s not really a Mesorah worth its salt.
The truth is that many of Judaism’s greatest heroes are women. In the secular world, if a woman takes a stand in favor of traditional values or ideas, then at best, she’s pitied as a victim of sexism. At worst, she’s ridiculed as an old-fashioned prude. In Judaism, if a woman takes a stand on behalf of Jews and Judaism, she becomes a hero for the history books. These women did not become heroes by hiding. Where would we be without such heroes as Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Leah, Miriam (she was a drummer too- she played the tambourine), Devorah, Yael, Ruth, Esther, and others in Tanach? Where would we be without Bruriah and Ima Shalom? Or Gracia Nasi Mendes? In more recent times, where would we be without Sarah Schenirer? Or Rebbetzin Jungreis?
When it comes to Torah Judaism, Halacha, and Mesorah, we need to dispel the myths, not perpetuate them. When people learn about true Torah Judaism, they’ll be able to be impressed by its beauty and holiness and that’s a Kiddush Hashem. Let’s perpetuate THAT.